‘The Gin Game’ to be staged in Bristol, Jan. 23

BRISTOL — Bristol actors Diana Bigelow and Jim Stapleton will perform a staged reading of “The Gin Game” by D.L. Coburn on Saturday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. in Holley Hall. This single performance will be sponsored by the Bristol Gateway Players and will serve as a benefit to improve the acoustics of the hall.
The story: Fonsia and Weller, residents of a seedy retirement home, meet on the porch and entertain themselves by playing gin rummy. The card games begin in good humor and the dialog tickles, but their interaction becomes more and more testy as Fonsia, the neophyte, repeatedly beats the card whiz, Weller. Tempers flare and the language becomes quite strong. The playwright has carefully labeled the play a “tragi-comedy.” It is funny; the quips, send-ups and put-downs are hilarious, but the drama remains basically a tragedy.
The two-person play was first performed on Broadway in the 1970s starring husband-and-wife team Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. Over the years it has become a standard in the community theater repertoire. Bigelow and Stapleton performed the play 20 years ago on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State where they lived at the time. It was their first production as a couple and it served as an incentive for them to write and perform their own work throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“The Gin Game” was recently revived on Broadway with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson. The Bristol couple saw this production in October. Bigelow commented, “We enjoyed watching these two icons of the theater interpret the play in their own way.”
Stapleton noted that a “staged reading” can be performed in different ways. “Some readings of plays have the actors standing at lecterns while addressing the audience. Diana and I have done that, but we much prefer to let the audience see the action of the fully staged play. The trick is to get you, the audience member, to forget that the actor has a script in hand. Here’s where ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ comes in.
“When you first see actors on stage or on a screen, you do not believe they are living out their everyday lives — they are ‘playing.’ The art of acting is to ease you out of that disbelief, to persuade you to suspend it, so that you can more fully enter into the emotional life of the scene in front of you. This magical art can even lead an audience to fail to notice the scripts in the actors’ hands.”
The community benefit, to improve the acoustics in Holley Hall, is dear to Bristol residents. The hall is home to the town’s performing arts and civic functions, but a number of residents have given up attending, because they simply can’t hear what is going on. Recently a committee was formed to promote “Let’s Hear It for Holley Hall,” a series of public events to raise matching funds for a grant application. “The Gin Game” is the latest of these offerings.
 “The Gin Game” has a running time 90 min with a 15-minute intermission. It is intended for mature audiences. There is a suggested donation of $10. Refreshments will be available.

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